Category Archives: Slice of Life

Status Update – Grow Where You’re Planted?

Mar 06, 2017

Me where I belong

Over the weekend, I had an interesting experience. I’ve been watching this amazing documentary series called Chef’s Table on Netflix, where they profile a big-time chef each episode. I was watching the one about Ivan Orkin, a gritty Jewish guy from Brooklyn…who runs a top-class ramen joint and has lived in Japan for 20 years. He talked about how the very first time he landed in Tokyo, he knew in his soul that he had come home.

Dude! That’s exactly how I felt about London! Well, I loved England when I went there in 2010, but when I spent 10 days in London last summer, I knew that London—specifically the Earl’s Court area of Kensington—was where my soul belonged. Something about it just sings to me. I feel completely comfortable there and at peace.

Now with me, I assumed it was because of the known ancestors I have who were from London. I have it in my DNA. But watching this show about Ivan Orkin…he’s Jewish. I don’t think he’s got Japanese ancestors. So to listen to him talking about how much his soul felt like it belonged in Japan really had me thinking.

This looks like a street where I should be spending more time!

What is it that makes us feel as though we belong in a place? Especially when it’s a place that is thousands of miles from where we were born and raised. Is it a DNA thing? Is it a spiritual thing or something that has to do with all of those layers and layers of stuff that I believe exists on some plane other than the physical/natural one for each of us? And have you ever felt as though you belonged in a place that was not where you were?

The other odd part of my weekend experience was that every time I told someone about how I feel about London, like at church, their initial reaction was to laugh. Yep, everyone. Not mean laughter, mind you, but the kind that suggests they think I’m joking or exaggerating. Actually, one woman, after laughing at first, then confessed to me that when she traveled to Europe for the first time, she absolutely loved it and felt as though it was incredibly special.

And that led me to wonder if this sense of displacement, of being born in the wrong place (or maybe the wrong time?) is much more universal than we think. Are we, perhaps, at least some of us, not born where we’re supposed to be? And is it then our life’s work to figure out a way to get ourselves to our true homes or to bring that essence to where we are?

I know there are some people who think exactly the opposite of the way I think. When I was living in Alabama, I had a co-worker/friend who I think was a little incredulous that I had moved down from the North in the first place. She called me out for being a Yankee all the time. And when I announced that I was moving back to Philly, she gave me a parting gift: a plaque painted with the words “Grow where you’re planted.” I found that plaque offensive, actually (though not the giving of it—that was done in good faith).

This is just one of hundreds of pics I took of the architecture of Kensington, my favorite part of London.

Because as long as I can remember, I haven’t felt as though I belonged where I was born. In fact, my love of England and the yearning to go there (and stay) isn’t new. It didn’t suddenly sprout up during that first trip in 2010. I’ve had a fascination with England as long as I can remember. I mean, tiny, tiny Merry used to dream of it. Maybe it was because my grandparents did a lot of traveling when I was young. Or maybe it’s because they had guests come to stay with them from all over the world…. Like my friend Janina, who I remember staying with my grandparents when I was about 8. I thought she was amazing then, and I still think she’s amazing now (and not just because she takes care of my cats when I go away and I take care of hers when she does the same).

Anyhow, it makes me wonder about belonging and nationality and what might be happening with us on all those unseen levels. So do you feel deep in your heart like you belong somewhere else?

Status Update – Nerds: I love them!

Mar 05, 2017

So I bet you think I’m going to start off this post by talking all about how I decided to write a romance novel series about nerdy guys. But nope! I’m going to start off by talking about how I recently started watching The Big Bang Theory. I can’t believe I waited so long to watch that show! It totally cracks me up. Why? Because I think I’ve known just about all of those guys at some point.

I hung out with a lot of the nerdy guys in college…sort of. Let’s just say I was around them more than I was a part of them. Because like the show depicts, sometimes it’s really hard to break through the nerdy guy social wall, because they’re so focused on the things they love. That’s what I love so much about The Big Bang Theory. I know that nerdy guys have criticized the show for depicting stereotypes and appropriating nerd culture, but dude, I’ve heard those conversations. I know those people. And that’s what makes it so wonderful. (The nerdy guys I have known have also had a slightly hard time laughing at themselves, so I’m also not surprised by the criticism, but let’s face it, all TV makes fun of some stereotype or another.)

Anyhow, I am so incredibly grateful for this show, because I discovered it at a time when, frankly, I’ve been dealing with a lot of…well, I’m not sure I’d call it depression, but a lot of blue days. It’s been great to have something silly, goofy, and relatable to watch and laugh over. I think I’ve laughed out loud during just about every single episode.

And that loops back around to why I wanted to write a series with nerdy guys and girls as the heroes and heroines. Nerds of Paradise is sort of my tribute to all those college guys I hung around, all the guys I knew who played D&D and larped (Live Action Role Play) and had arguments about the merits of various super powers and who was the best superhero. It’s for the guys I knew who tried to build a catapult that would launch a water balloon from the center of the college campus where we went into the center of the high school campus that adjoined it. Did I say try? Because I’m pretty sure they succeeded…and got in trouble for it.

The reason I love nerds, even though they generally get a bad rap in American culture, is because they are so creative! They think beyond common boundaries. They always have some wild idea that they want to research and then make a reality. That’s what makes them so wonderful, even if their social skills aren’t top notch (although with some, they are, and a friend refers to those as “nerd adaptables”). I was recently reading a book about American cultures and values, and they mentioned that nerds are less appreciated in this country than in Asian or European cultures, and that just makes me sad. Because as far as I’m concerned, the nerds are what it’s all about!

Status Update – Why Series End

Mar 01, 2017

In my writing career so far, I have written eight different series (and a few odds and ends). Of those series, I only have two “active” right now (The Brides of Paradise Ranch and Nerds of Paradise). Four of those series are definitely done (The Noble Hearts, Montana Romance, Hot on the Trail, and Culpepper Cowboys). And the other two (Second Chances and Grace’s Moon)? Ugh, that’s where my heart and my head get into serious debates.

But first things first….

Why does an author choose to end a series? If you’re a reader, it might be heartbreaking to say goodbye to your favorite characters and a world you’ve fallen in love with. The same is true for the author too, but sometimes things have to end. Like with my Noble Hearts series. That decision was easy, because I realized Medieval Romance wasn’t the way I wanted to go. Or with Montana Romance, I felt like I’d told all the stories I needed to tell in that world and wanted to move on to other things. Hot on the Trail was a slightly different story, because I just got burnt out of writing about the Oregon Trail. I mean, there are only so many stories you can tell about people headed west in wagons. But you’ll notice, I sort of just rolled that world into Paradise Ranch, so it doesn’t really end, it just shifts.

Incidentally, I’m thinking that later this year, I might spin-off Paradise Ranch into a 3-5 novella series about the girls that Bonnie has rescued, educated, and helped to find a new life. And thanks to Elspeth and Gunn, those lives are as servants in British households…which would be a great transition from my historical westerns to the British Victorian stories I really want to start writing. It’s all organic, and everything fits together!

But I digress. For me, the Culpepper Cowboys books ended because the well went completely dry for those books. I got to the point where I was just blank. I had no new ideas for the length, tone, and atmosphere of that world. But that sort of rolled into Nerds of Paradise, which are longer, deeper, more complex, and deal with more serious issues. So if that’s the case for those books, what about Second Chances, my contemporary series set in Maine?

This is where I start to cringe on an emotional level. Because I LOVE those Maine books. I love Maine! And I’m very proud of what is now a trilogy. I have people asking me if I’m going to write more in that series all the time. And I hate to say it, but the farther away I get from the last one of those that I published, the less likely I am to continue the series. Because the thing about writers is that their writing brains are not static. I am constantly coming up with new ideas, new worlds, and new characters. Which is a wonderful thing! But the consequence is that other things can be left behind because there just aren’t enough hours in the day. Also, when other series and types of books start to pick up in sales, it’s really hard to forego that income to write something that will need a bigger marketing push. We gotta eat!

And finally… Grace’s Moon. *epic sigh* So, so few people have read my Sci-Fi books or even know they exist. The thing is, I love that genre. I love the books that I’ve already published in that series, and I love the ones that are still floating around in my head. And I keep saying that someday I AM going to come back to that series and write more. Unlike Second Chances, I’m unwilling to say, willingly or grudgingly, that I’m done with Grace. Because I have generation after generation of those characters already planned out. In my mind, that world is epic! Someday I’ll get back to it. Someday!

Status Update – Why I Rent

Feb 27, 2017

There was a time, not so long ago, when people always said to me, “Merry, why are you still renting? You should buy a house.” Well, my answer has always been that I owned a house once, and I really hated raking, mowing, shoveling, weeding, and paying for that tree that fell down in my yard after a storm. I’m good with renting so that someone else can take care of all that, and last night I had a vivid reminder of that!

It looks so harmless now, but last night…

This is actually a short story. I got up at 1:30am to use the potty… Climbed back in bed… Noticed my upstairs neighbors walking around a little… Then all of a sudden, I hear this sound that my half-asleep brain couldn’t identify. At first I thought it was the kitten playing with something. Whenever I hear strange noises in my house, I immediately assume it’s the cats. But no, it was coming from my en suite master bathroom.

So I get up again, go to take a look, and… WATER WAS POURING OUT OF THE LIGHT FIXTURE! Not dripping, mind you, pouring. I threw down my towel and ran to get the bucket from the guest room. And why do I have a bucket in my guest room, you ask? Because a couple of weeks ago when we had a little snow and it started to melt, the ceiling in my guest room started leaking. They figured that one out, fixed the gutter outside, and will come make the guest room ceiling pretty again at some point, so that’s all well and good.

But back to the middle of last night and my master bath. I plunked the bucket under the leak—which was already slowing down at that point—and just stood there and stared at it for a moment. Because really, what could I do? Nothing. So I went back to bed (and took an hour and a half to fall asleep again). This morning I put in a maintenance request online. In it, I mentioned that my washing machine still hasn’t been fixed yet.

Ain’t my problem.

Oh yeah, my washing machine broke about two weeks ago. It doesn’t spin at the end of the load, so the clothes don’t drain and come out of the washer sopping wet. But they’re scheduled to deal with that at some point.

AND THIS IS WHY I RENT. Because none of this is my problem. I don’t have to pay for any of it. I don’t own anything that was damaged. I don’t have to do anything more than call the office to have maintenance come deal with it. I don’t even have to be home when they come. Woo hoo!

I should also just mention that where some people might freak out at all these problems, it doesn’t really bother me too much. This is still an awesome apartment which I love, and I wouldn’t think of moving out, unless maybe the ceilings started caving in. I guess I’m just easy to please.

Status Update – Contemporary and Historical

Feb 26, 2017

Psst! Here’s the next historical, coming out next month!

Funny, but several times in the last week or so I’ve found myself in conversations with other writers about which genres we like to write the most, which come more easily to us, and how these days, it’s necessary to write more than one genre. This is shop-talk at its finest for me! I love talking about this stuff. So I’ll share with you.

First of all, yeah, a lot of writers agree that it’s really important to write more than one genre right now, especially if you’re an indie author. The market has become so unpredictable (especially these last few months, whew!) and readers read across such a wide variety of genres and subjects. In past years, one genre or another, say, paranormal, would be popular for years (remember all those vampire novels about ten years ago?). Reading tastes would stick around for years as opposed to months.

Months, like now. These days, genres rise and fall, become popular, then lose that popularity on much shorter cycles. One month you might find that your motorcycle gang books are selling like hotcakes, and three months later, you can’t give them away. It’s funny how genres work like that.

Personally, I’m still waiting for historical romance to gain the ascendancy again. I prefer writing and reading historical romance. It’s funny too, because a lot of people say they can’t identify with the problems and plots of historical people, but I find that I identify with them more and feel more comfortable in those worlds. But I’m also weird. We all know that. And even though I’ve been writing historical westerns for the past five years, guess what? I really long to write British Victorian novels! Yep! And by the end of this year, I’m gonna start writing and publishing them too, so watch out!

But here’s the thing. I’ve had some amazing reactions to the contemporary romance novels I’ve written. A lot of them have sold better than my historicals. And that’s primarily because contemporary just sells better than historical. That’s the way the market is right now. And while they’re not my favorite, they’re a very close second. I do like writing them.

The funny thing is, I never thought I had any contemporary romance stories in me. I didn’t think I could write them at all. But I kicked myself in the pants a couple years ago and wrote Summer with a Star, and the rest is history. I really enjoyed writing that book. (Although I ended up publishing it at an incredibly stressful time in my life, and yes, it has a lot of typos. Alas.) Since then, I’ve found a contemporary voice that I’m comfortable with. I kinda think I write contemporary stories the way I would write a historical one, if that makes sense. But there’s a lot you can do with contemporary characters that you can’t do with historical ones.

Although I’ll get out my soapbox and say that the range of activity for historical heroines is WAY narrower than life really was for those ladies in many of the novels I’ve read. People in general don’t quite understand what life was really like back then (understandable, since very few people have degrees in history) and many people believe the myths about what life was like, even when someone points out the reality to them.

But that’s a post for a different day!